ABOUT sixty five miles north of Ahmedabad, prettily situated on a rising ground on the north bank of the river sacred to Sarasvati, “the watery,” stands the town of Siddhpur. Here the stream, which generally flows in a south-westerly direction, makes a bend towards the east, facing the rising sun, and is there regarded as of peculiar sanctity. Thus the bard sings of it:—
Tirth bhumipâvan Siddhakshetra Subhasâr
Nirmâl nir vahe Sarasvati sada mokshko dwâr, &c. —
“ A Tirtha, a place’ to make holy, is the good Siddha Kshetra,
Where flows Sarasvatî’s pure stream—ever beatitude’s door.
A city three worlds to purify, by Siddhs ever worshipped,
Gods, Rishis, and men cherish the desire to live there.
And there dwell devas unnumbered, as a tirtha regarding it, —
Of Kâsi, Gâya, Godâvari, and all other tirthas, the best;
Where Kardam and Dehuti lived, and Kapila was born.
Here is Bindusarovar’s pure fount, and Matrugayâ;
Applied to the bodies of men degraded and fallen, it washes their myriads of sins.
Here is Prâchi Mahâdev, whose renown by Ved and Purâna is sung:
Of all Tirthas, the essence—it is named Kapilashrâm.”
The olden name of this holy place appears to have been Śrîsthala, and in the tenth century (A.D. 943) Mula Râja, the founder of the Solanki dynasty of Gujarat, began to embellish it by the erection of the Rudra Mâlâ, a famous temple of Śiva, of which the gigantic fragments that still remain, interspersed among the houses of one of the dirtiest towns of Western India, impress the beholder with admiration at the scale and grandeur of the conception. In his youth Mula Deva had slain his maternal uncle, usurped his thorne, and murdered the whole of his mother’s kindred; and in old age his crimes hung heavily on his mind. He made pilgrimages and courted the favour of Brahmans from far and near. To a band of them he gave Śrîsthala, and committing the kingdom to his son Châmund, he retired thither to end his days in their company (A.D. 996). But the Rudra Mâlâ was still incomplete, nor was it finished till A.D. 1145. Colonel Tod mentions an inscription to this effect, and in a Kavita or ballad, already quoted, there occurs almost a literal version of it: —
“ In Samvat ten(?) hundred. Begun by Mahârâj Mûladev,
In Samvat twelve hundred and two, Siddharâj completed the work;
In Samvat twelve hundred two, Mâgh month, Krishna Paksh,
On Monday the fourteenth, in the Nakshatra Śrâvan and Varyan Yoga,
Siddharâj, in the Rudra Mâl, Śivashankar established.”
To Siddharâja and his mother, Mainâl Devi, tradition attributes the erection of many splendid edifices, and is doubtless correct in so doing: it was truly the Augustan age of architecture in Gujarat; but to what circumstance we owe the completion of the stupendous pile begun by his ancestor we cannot tell. Legend says two Parmârs from Mâdhavdâs, took up their haunt among the rush grass that covered the neighbourhood of the Rudra Mâlâ, and lived by plunder. There they found the foundations of a temple and a Śiva linga, and said that in the night they had seen devas and apsârasas. or heavenly maids. This was told to Siddharâja, and led to the erection of the great fane.
“The Râja,” writes Ali Muhammad Khan, “on signifying his intention of building the above-mentioned temple, requested the astrologers, it is said, to appoint a fortunate hour; and they at this time predicted the destruction of the building” by a Muslim invader. Then Siddha Râja caused images of “horse lords” and other great kings to be placed in the temple, and “near them a representation of himself in the attitude of supplication, with an inscription praying that, even if the land was laid waste, this temple might not be destroyed.”1 Then was the name of Śristhala changes for that of Siddhapur, in commemoration of his restoration of the city and shrine.2
But the evil day came; Ala-ud-din Khilji, surnamed Khuni, or “the Bloody,” ascended the throne of Dehli in 1296, and sent an army under Almas Beg Alaf Khân and Nusrat Khân Jalesri, and “fulfilled the obligations of the law by converting the temple into a masjid with minars.” Tod quotes a couplet recording its destruction. “In Samvat 1353 (A.D. 1296). Came the barbarian Ala: the Rudra-Mâla he leveled, carrying destruction amongst the lords of men.”
The principal fragments that now remain of this once splendid shrine are five in number—shut in amont houses, which have been built over the greater part of the area it once occupied. The Kirti Stambha, or triumphal arch—which was nearly perfect only a few years ago—has now been denuded of the principal sculptures in the pediment, and of the beautiful toran or garland-like arch that sprung from the capitals of the columns and touched the architrave above,-the architrave itself resting on dwarf columns that rise from the capitals of the great pillars. From the ground to the architrave is about twenty-four feet; the pediment rises perhaps ten feet above this; and the whole has been finished in the most ornate style of Hindu art. It is now much defaced about the base of the pillars, but it still strikes the visitor as having been a noble piece of masonry. Twelve yards south from it stand five massive columns, which appear to have formed the east or front porch of the great temple and a pillar of its doorway. They are surmounted by lintels, and still retain their toranas; whilst over the inner pair of the portico rise two pillars of the second story, also still supporting their architrave. Other columns may have fallen or been pulled down within the last fifty years, for Tod, in 1822. describes this as “a mass of two stories, each supported by four columns, and the columns of a third story, preserving, without any entablature, their perfect perpendicularity”. A huge block lies diagonally across the lintel of the outer columns, and I was told it had fallen there during the earthquake of 1819, which, as Colonel Tod learnt, had “thrown down two of the loftiest columns.” 3
On the bases which support the pillars at the entrance there are inscriptions, —one of them dated in A.D 1249. A third portion of these ruins, to the west of the last, consists of four columns in a line, the upper sections of them elaborately carved, and not much defaced. A portion of this fragment appears on the right hand in the plate. The base, shaft, capital, and bracket of each is a single stone, and over the four lies an architrave, consisting of a single block about four feet square and twenty-six feet in length. Above this area two string courses, and then two plain columns on square bases with rough, square, bracket capitals supporting a lintel under which runs a wooden beam. The height of this is 38 feet; and if the temple was of three stories, as Tod’s statements would lead us to conclude it must have been, the mandap may have been about sixty feet in height; but tradition reports variously that it had five, six or even seven stories.
Between this and the Kirti Stambha are four pillars (appearing on the left in the plate) with three elaborate toranas; the architraves over them are also richly carved, as are the two pillars and two pilasters that surmount them, with the entablature above. Lastly, to the west of all the other fragments, is a mosk, consisting of three low domes, apparently the porticoes to three of the small shrines which probably surrounded the court of the great temple. The columns have been elaborately carved, but all the small human figures have been hewn out, whilst over the domes may still be seen portions of two of the sikhars of the shrines; and a fourth small temple, adjoining these on the north, is still nearly entire.
The Kavita, or metrical account of the Rudra Mâlâ, already refereed to, is a lengthy composition in various metres, beginning with the praises of Siddhakshetra and passing to a grandiloquent account of the greatness of Mûla Deva, the foundation of the Rudra Mâlâ, the wealth, virtues, and power of Siddha Râja, the grandeur of the Rudra Mâlâ, and its overthrow.
“Rudra Mâlâ shone like the Kailas of Sriva,
Gems, rubies and diamonds set in it sparkled like lamp—flames,
Covered with gold like the mountain of Meru;
Inlaid with gems were the doors of it,
Festoons filled with pearls were there;
Studded with screens and with lattices,
The Mandaps on its four sides were rendered attractive.
* * * * *
Pillars sixteen hundred adorned it,
Images eighteen thousand set with rubies and pearls,
Flags of gold tinsel floated, and pennons thirty thousand,
Kalases of gold, sixteen hundred decked it out,
Fifty-six lakhs of horses and elephants made a line,
Of carved screens a lakh and a quarter were there,
And of resting-places seven thousand two hundred;
Siddharâj Jêsinha, for the Rudra Mâlâ Pratâd,
Fourteen karors of mohors for the cost, wrote down.
Four doors on four sides, and Mandaps three, I describe;
Other shrines all around it, numberless shine;
The varied labours appear to the eye most enchanting,
In the midst, to Great Rudra, eleven shrines he erected,
Siddhasinh with the Brahmans together there meeting,
* * * * *
For its name “Rudra Mâlâ” established,
Ganananâ in the midst sounds the drum, the cymbal ganananâ
Ganananâ re-echoes the bell, till the ear is stunned with the sound.”
In 1415 Ahmad Shah completed the destruction of the Rudra Mâlâ, and we hear little more of Siddhapur till the monsoon of 1573, when the great Akbar, after taking possession of Gujarat, encamped at it till Vadanagar had been taken and Aulia Khân seized by the troops, sent out for that purpose, under Râja Bhagwandâs. At that period Abu’l Fazl speaks of it as still “a great place of religious resort.”